Featuring a pedagogical discussion on working with multi-level groups, with Mike Harrison, Divya Madhavann and Tyson Seburn from the Teacher Development SIG Online Team.
I think an important question in the landscape of multi-level instruction is – can the individual needs of all trainees really be taken into account all the way through?
I agree. I am currently working on training courses where the aim is to develop the participants’ skills in using technology in their teaching. Even if you’re working with a group of teachers from the same country, and a group that you can also communicate with in their language, you have to deal with differing levels of familiarity with technology. You may have trainees that are up to date with the latest apps and devices working alongside those for whom putting together a PowerPoint presentation can prove a struggle.
Yes. It’s really a consideration you need to go into your planning with. In a similar context, I was training teachers on tech also, and when I did the first course, I had assumed that some basics would already be familiar since everyone needed to bring a laptop to attend the course (e.g. what a browser is, how to connect to wifi, etc.). Because I hadn’t come prepared for this level of student too, I spent too much time at the beginning of the session going over these terms and helping set up laptops for these students while others just sat around, unless they too volunteered to help. The second round of courses I took this into account and things went far smoother… Perhaps another salient consideration with multi-level instruction with this and probably any group then is differing expectation on the same material…
The expectations issue is a really tricky one. I have an example: I recently participated in a website development training thing where I was that precise student who had a much ‘higher’ level of ability to many of the other participants and I have to admit I kind of switched off and did my own thing for the whole session. I didn’t make it uncomfortable for the trainer but he did come and apologise to me at the end because he knew I hadn’t got much out of the session. So the question for me then is, given that high-level trainees are the ones who end up sometimes being ‘left out’, how do do you guys manage the space, manage to keep it sexy for everyone?
Assuming the trainer has a higher level of expertise than all of the students (maybe not the case for some of us…hehehe), I do think it comes down to the trainer creating different and more demanding tasks as extensions for learners like this. At a recent local conference I went to a session using tech and like you, Divya, I was far above the level of the other students. Similarly, I went about my own business, which I’d also hope any learner like this would do–make the most of their time–but then ask the trainer for advice on problem areas they encounter with whatever they are doing. Still, it would be ideal if the trainer themselves comes up with tasks to fill these voids for these learners first. It would also help the trainer be able to facilitate issues that arise, with all learners.
So then it’s a sort of layered preparation, which I suppose is the case with any multi-level classroom but I can’t help but wonder how the higher level participants can really be challenged as opposed to being on auto-pilot, which we’ve all had experiences of.
That completely depends on the trainer’s prediction of what a higher level participant actually is. No?
I’d say that in this case, it’s important to take the focus away from the idea of simply mastering the skills of using the apps and programs that you’re working with. What you want to do is set up a framework where your trainees have to look critically at each app or tool to decide whether it’s really something they want to dedicate their time to with the goal of upping their own knowledge and how it will benefit their students. For example, is it something that is really changing a classroom dynamic, or is it something that can more easily (and maybe more effectively) be done on paper? Is it something that will take a long time for students to get to grips with? So I’d have a general set of questions about how appropriate an app or technology may be, so that my trainees could be working on this aspect of the training, rather than them becoming bored because they know how to use it.
Yes, this is an excellent approach to expect higher level trainees to do as an extension. As you imply, however, this type of framework is beneficial to all, so trying to allow for opportunity for all trainees to get to these types of meta-level discussions is important.
It’s great, I’d even be tempted to say that a question like ‘how would this impact classroom dynamics’ could potentially be something that higher level trainees research and present in a more formal way, making specific links to the local context they’re working in,
I’d go further and say that it is perhaps the most important aspect of training teachers to use technology. During the recent training course that I’ve already referred to, I was conscious of wanting to get to this more critical aspect. So I planned my sessions to include some clear guidance notes on the app we were looking at, a demo on the big screen from me (complete with me having to wrestle with the tech myself!), then free time for them to play with it and then focus on deciding whether it was going to benefit their teaching.
It’s great that you allow for that level of autonomy in the reflective process Mike. I’m curious has anyone responded negatively when asked whether this would be beneficial to their teaching?
That was perhaps one of the most interesting things about this particular course – it wasn’t exclusively English language teachers. Rather the participants came from primary and secondary contexts, and often they would be teaching other curriculum areas, such as science, maths, philosophy… This meant there were clearly some applications that were not appropriate for some contexts. One example that springs to mind was an app that allowed you to create a story book from a selection of artwork and your own writing. One teacher in the group was teaching students towards the higher grades of secondary school. In this case the app was probably a bit too childish for her students. However, she could see possible applications for it, even if it was not ideal for her teaching context.
How she was tasked with trying to apply the app to her own context is really what teacher development boils down to I believe, whether we are talking about tech or a task-based problem. Making connections between contexts that don’t automatically seem to align is where deep development tends to occur as it pushes us outside what is easiest to reach for higher levels of understanding. This ultimately contributes to our abilities to help our learners do the same. Isn’t that our goal?
I’m a lecturer at Ecole Centrale Paris in France where my teaching focuses on societal challenges for future engineers. I see education as being at the absolute forefront of these challenges. I believe very deeply in teachers as public intellectuals, and in the vital role of teacher development beyond certificates and training. I’ve been involved in ELT for about 14 years: I hold an MA in Language Education and have recently completed an MEd in Educational Research. I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
I’m at present a freelance teacher and materials writer, based in London, although that may be subject to change! Teaching-wise I’m into unplugged approaches in the classroom, particularly those that make the most of minimal resources, whether that’s online video, pictures, texts, or whatever the students themselves produce. Outside the classroom, I am a committed volunteer, both for IATEFL and NATECLA – the national association in the UK. I also blog a fair bit about my teaching and learning experiences, and present at conferences whenever and wherever I can!
As an EAP teacher in higher education, I focus on meaningfully engaging students with their L2 reading to afford stronger application of academic writing skills. As a teacher within the ELT community, I am driven to create new public spaces for and aid self-directed action among language teachers to increase agency in their own development paths. These have led me to my MA in Educational Technology & TESOL, writing at 4CinELT, and organizing #tleap.
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